Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

Robert Louis (Balfour) Stevenson (November 13, 1850- December 3, 1894), was a Scottish novelist, poet, and travel writer.

Stevenson was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was Thomas Stevenson and grandfather was Robert Stevenson, both successful lighthouse engineers, and his mother was Margaret Balfour. He studied at Edinburgh Academy in his youth. His parents were both very religious. Robert gave up the religion of his parents while studying at the University of Edinburgh, but the teaching that he received as a child continued to influence him. He actually took up a branch of Christianity called Calvinism as his new religion in college.

Although ill with tuberculosis from childhood, Stevenson had a full life. He began his education as an engineer but, despite his family history, he showed little aptitude and soon switched to studying law. At the age of 18 he dropped the name Balfour and changed his middle name from Lewis to Louis (but retaining the original pronunciation); from this time on he began styling himself RLS. He turned to the law because of poor health, but he never practised. He ended his life as a tribal leader (called by his tribe Tusitala, meaning "storyteller" in Samoa) and plantation owner at his residence "Vailima" in Samoa, all this in addition to his literary career.

Stevenson's novels of adventure, romance, and horror are of considerable psychological depth and have continued in popularity long after his death, both as books and as films.

His wife Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, whom he married in 1880, was a great support in his adventurous and arduous life.

Stevenson made several trips to the Kingdom of Hawaii and became a good friend of King David Kalakaua with whom Stevenson spent much time. Stevenson also became best friends with the king's niece Princess Victoria Kaiulani, also of Scottish heritage. Since the tragic deaths of both Stevenson and Kaiulani, historians have debated the true nature of their relationship as to whether or not they had romantic feelings for each other. Because of the age difference, such stories have often been discredited. In 1888, Stevenson travelled to the island of Molokai just weeks after the death of Father Damien. He spent twelve days at the missionary priest's residence, Bishop Home at Kalawao. Stevenson taught the local girls to play croquet. When Congregationalist and Presbyterian ministers began to defame Father Damien out of spite for his Catholicism, Stevenson wrote one of his most famous essays in defence of the life and work of the missionary priest.

Stevenson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vailima in Samoa, aged 44. In his will, he bequeathed his birthday to a little girl, Annie Ide, who had been born on Christmas Day.

* Treasure Island (1883) His first major success, a tale of piracy, buried treasure, and adventure, has been filmed frequently. It was originally called The Sea-Cook.
* The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1883) An historical adventure novel and romance set during the Wars of the Roses. This novel presents the Wars of the Roses, as it were, in miniature.
* Kidnapped (1886) is an historical novel that tells of the boy David Balfour's pursuit of his inheritance and his alliance with Alan Breck in the intrigues of Jacobite troubles in Scotland. Catriona (1893), also known as David Balfour, is a sequel, telling of Balfour's further adventures.
* The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), a short novel about a dual personality much depicted in plays and films, also influential in the growth of understanding of the subconscious mind through its treatment of a kind and intelligent physician who turns into a psychopathic monster after imbibing a drug intended to separate good from evil in a personality.
* The New Arabian Nights (1882), a collection of tales.
* The Body Snatcher (1885), another influential horror tale.
* The Wrong Box, (1892), with Lloyd Osbourne, a comic novel of a tontine, also filmed (1966). A tontine is a group life-insurance policy in which the last survivor gets all the insurance. Both in the novel and in real life, it is an incentive to murder, and no longer legal in most countries.
* The Master Of Ballantrae (1888), a masterful tale of revenge, set in Scotland and America.
* Weir Of Hermiston (1896), novel, unfinished at his death, considered to have promised great artistic growth.


* A Child's Garden Of Verses (1885), written for children but also popular with their parents. Includes such favourites as "My Shadow" and "The Lamplighter". Often thought to represent a positive reflection of the author's sickly childhood.

Travel writing

* An Inland Voyage (1878), travels with a friend in a "Rob Roy" canoe from Antwerp (Belgium) to Pontoise, just north of Paris.
* Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), solo hiking in the mountains of Cévennes (south-central France), one of the first books to present hiking and camping as recreational activities. It tells of commissioning one of the first sleeping bags.
* The Silverado Squatters (1883), unconventional honeymoon trip to an abandonded mining camp in Napa Valley, California with his new wife Fanny and her son Lloyd.
* The Amateur Emigrant (written 1879-80, published 1895). An account of the first leg of his journey to California, by ship from Europe to New York. Andrew Noble (From the Clyde to California: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Emigrant Journey, 1985) considers it to be his finest work.
* Across the Plains (written in 1879-80 published in 1892). Second leg of his journey, by train from New York to California (then picks up with The Silverado Squatters).

Island literature

Although not well known, his island fiction and non-fiction is among the most valuable and collected of the 19th century body of work that addresses the Pacific area.

Non-fiction works on the Pacific

* In the South Seas. A collection of Stevenson's articles and essays on his travels in the Pacific.
* A Footnote To History, Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1912)

Island fiction

* The Beach at Falesa, one of his darkest works, explores the relationship between white traders and islanders in a way that anticipates Conrad and Maugham.
* An Island Nights' Entertainment. Three great stories: The Bottle Imp, The Beach at Falesá and The Isle of Voices.
* The Wrecker with Lloyd Osbourne
* The Ebb Tide with Lloyd Osbourne

Books by Robert Louis Stevenson